It was beautiful and horrible and messy and angry, but it was also the purest, most innocent kind of love I’ll ever feel – Akemi Dawn Bowman.
Akemi Dawn Bowman is one of those authors who can write a story that relates to every single reader, whether it is in a huge mountain kinda way, or the tiniest of tendrils that her readers are secretly grateful for. That is why people anticipate her books – she has a way to make every reader feel safe, feel needed, feel validated. Her characters are a blend of coming-of-age, a representation of racial minorities in both the real world, and literary world, and imperfect in their struggles, which makes them lash out even if they don’t mean to. She creates characters that are raw and real, with emotions that are sometimes too much to bear, so much so that tears drop and splatter onto her pages.
Summer Bird Blue encompasses all of this and more. It tells the story of Rumi Seto. She is a worrier. She worries about who she is and why she is so different from the rest of her peers, why she doesn’t feel the same as others do during these angsty teenage years. She worries about the little things, as well as the big things. One thing that she is certain of, however, is that her and her little sister, Lea, are lifetime friends and partners-in-crime. All they want to do together is create music. They play a game. Think of three words and that is what the next song will be about. It is the last game they ever play before a car crash upends Rumi’s life forever, snatching her sister away from her, when she had so much life to give, much more than Rumi. At least, according to her.
Then, Rumi is sent away by her mother. Sent to Hawaii to live with her distant aunt who she’s never had much of a conversation with. Anger boils to the brim of Rumi’s skin. Frustration seeps into her soul. She is grieving and yet, she cannot grieve for the sister she has lost. She wants her back. That’s not all. She grieves for the life that they had planned, grieves for the music that was once her solace, but now brings her pain and torment. She grieves for a mother that she thought she knew, an entire family that has been split apart, despite two of them still living.
Love is a central theme to Summer Bird Blue, but it is not the love that you usually find between the pages of contemporary young adult novels. Sometimes the kind of love that needs to be shared and celebrated is the kind of love that we have all our lives, from the moment we are born until the second we die, and forever after. The love of friendship. The love of family. It can be raw and so painful that it physically hurts, but it can also be the most beautiful feeling in the world. And it can come when you least suspect it, as with old George Watanabe, the old man next door who has a yapping dog and a lifetime of grief of his own. He is my favourite character in the book. He tells Rumi what she doesn’t want to hear, and he does it in a way that might seem cruel on the surface, but is the kindest way to make her face her own demons, and learn from his mistakes.
As for Rumi herself; at first, I couldn’t relate to her. Not because of the way she looks or her sexual orientation, but because she is so blunt, so sarcastic, so broken from the pain that she is almost too harsh, too cruel. As the book went on, I started to understand her ways, the reasons why she reacts to situations the way she does in her selfishness and her tragedy. I understood in a way that I cannot quite understand because I have never lost a sister, or a piece of me that lives in another person’s body. I have loved and lost, but not to that capacity. Losing a sister or a best friend is incomprehensible.
If you need a story that is devastating yet hopeful, Summer Bird Blue is the book to pick up. It is set along the beaches of Hawaii, under the hottest of suns, in the most beautiful of places, but it is charred with grief. And yet, there is a promise that things will get better.
Love, Faye xo